The Salvation Army, at the Victorian Parliamentary enquiry into religious sexual abuse, has admitted to 470 claims of abuse from the Children’s Homes it operated until the 1980s. It had paid out between $15 million and $20 million to victims from complaints against about 50 Officers.
Captain Roberts, for the Salvation Army, caused anger among victims groups when he claimed that he did not believe there was an organised paedophile ring at the Salvation Army’s Bayswater Home, even though a judge had referred to a “nest of paedophiles” at the Home.
Under questioning, Captain Roberts said the Salvation Army had not conducted an investigation into allegations of systemic abuse at homes including the Box Hill and Bayswater boys homes and the East Camberwell girls home, in Melbourne’s east. The enquiry has forcefully advised the Salvos to conduct such an enquiry. Outside the inquiry, Alf Stirling, 72, and Brian Cherrie, 60, who suffered in the Bayswater Home, condemned the Salvation Army for not investigating the suffering that occurred in its Homes.
Captain Roberts said he had seen a service card for one officer who was put on “sick leave” and then transferred away from children’s homes after confessing in March 1950 to the sexual abuse of four boys at Box Hill and Bayswater. He said he knew the officer was never assigned to a children’s home again, but did not know whether he was reported to police.
The Salvation Army made a formal apology for the abuse of children in its care up to the 1990s in Canberra in 2010, in which they acknowledged the “rigid, harsh and authoritarian” environment inside many of its homes.” They have sometimes been referred to by past inmates of their Boy’s Homes as the “Starvation Army”.
There are important points to be noted about the Salvation Army’s evidence. Firstly, they used a low-ranking officer to front the enquiry.
They use the old argument that abuse was “historical” and that things are better now. This argument is false given that the average time required for a victim to come to terms with the abuse enough to report it, is of the order of 20-30 years. That is, present abuse may not surface until 2040.
The third problem with Captain Roberts’ evidence is the statement he gave that “The Salvation Army had almost no records of children in the homes but had not tried to hide, shred or dispose of them”. This is patently incorrect. When the author first attempted to obtain records from the Indooroopilly Boy’s Home in 1990, the organisation claimed that records had been lost in the Brisbane floods of 1974.
As one insider in the Queensland Government’s Family Services Department confided to the author, “the 1974 floods were wonderful for the excellent opportunity to get rid of some embarrassing files.” At the same time, the author vividly remembers a truck driver confiding that he had taken a load of files away from the Home to be burnt. He claimed it was referred to by Officers as being their “scorched earth policy”.
The Salvation Army needs to be further questioned over these matters by Royal Commission staff.
[Postscript: Vlad Selakovic (pictured above), who was at the Salvation Army Bayswater Home from 1971-74 at the same time the author, as a young graduate student and President of the University of Queensland (student) Union, was being told by the Salvos that things were fixed in the old Boy’s Homes and so there was nothing to worry about.]
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TOMORROW: Victorian enquiry: Anglican Church’s Philip Freier’s evidence
That’s all I can say
Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)